First Monday

Scholarly publishing initiatives at the International Rice Research Institute: Linking users to public goods via open access by Albert Borrero, Mila Ramos, Anna Arsenal, Katherine Lopez, and Gene Hettel

Scientists at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines, generate a large volume of research results emanating from donor–funded projects. The main objective is to disseminate, as widely as possible, the results of IRRI’s research. There is also a strong push to provide free open access to these information resources through modes convenient to researchers in both developing and developed countries.

Certain instruments for open access (OA) are already in place at IRRI, including links to full–text publications posted on the Institute’s Web site (, especially via the Library branch site (, the Rice Knowledge Bank (, and Rice Publications Archive ( The joint initiatives of the Library and the Institute’s main science publishing units, particularly Communication and Publications Services and the Training Center, typify a convergence of practices to overcome hurdles to OA implementation.

This paper explores how the links in IRRI’s scholarly publishing chain, bridging information management and publishing, can effectively deliver public goods (knowledge about rice, in this case) to the intended primary users — researchers and extensionists in the national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES) in developing countries.

It also discusses publishing models for delivering public goods generated by an international research organization. To meet its mission, IRRI must employ various demand–supply models to disseminate information. Open access publishing is one model to adopt but first, the onus is on the Institute to overcome issues such as intellectual property rights, funding, and connectivity.

IRRI’s donors, NARES partners, governments, and rice farmers and consumers expect it to create and share information for the common good, and it strives to convert its resources into electronic format for delivery over the Internet. However, not all its stakeholders are connected.

To create impact, IRRI must deliver information through whatever appropriate form, be it cutting–edge digital versions or traditional hard–copy books. This paper discusses this dilemma and hopes to encourage further research and thought on open access publishing.


Rice agriculture in the information age
Bridging the knowledge gap in rice research
Operationalizing open access in IRRI: The experiences of LDS and CPS
IRRI Training Center: Building capacity through open access
Open access towards equitable access to IRRI’s global public goods
Conclusion: Creating a global portal for rice knowledge




Rice is the staple food for majority of the world’s population, especially in developing nations. As the single largest source of food, employment, and income for millions of poor people, it is the most important economic activity on Earth. It is because rice affects so many lives, especially in Asia, that the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations saw it prudent to create an international institute for rice research.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) was organized in 1960 in Los Baños, Philippines, at a time when there was fear of famine across Asia, where most rice eaters are located. Compounding the threat of widespread hunger were (1) a rampant increase in the world’s population and (2) the steady depletion of land area suitable for rice growing.

Mandated to engage in international research and training, IRRI’s mission was then — as it is now — to improve the well–being of present and future generations of rice farmers and consumers, particularly those with low incomes.

IRRI and the Green Revolution

IRRI’s first rice variety, IR8, with its high yield potential under correct management, together with the modern wheat varieties created by Norman Borlaug and his associates at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT at in Mexico, constituted an agricultural breakthrough, which caused the great wave of optimism in the mid– and late 1960s about the ability to feed the hungry millions in the less developed countries. These developments were popularly hailed as the Green Revolution, the miracle that transformed agriculture (Chandler, 1992).

Due to wider propagation of yield–improving technologies and intensified use of fertilizer, irrigation water, and other farming inputs, poor people throughout Asia and Latin America have had better access to less expensive food and today experience improved livelihoods (Maclean, et al., 2002).

Beyond “miracle seeds” and better techniques, however, the real driver of productivity was knowledge. Output was greater because of wider distribution of information and adoption of agricultural practices that had already been tested and fine–tuned by farmers in more developed countries. As such, the Green Revolution is, perhaps, one of the finest examples of the “knowledge for development” equation.

The importance of “knowledge capital” in development

In “Knowledge for Development,” the World Bank explained that poor countries suffer not only from insufficient financial capital but also from lack of knowledge (World Bank, 1999). It identified two forms of knowledge–related problems affecting many developing countries:

The Green Revolution is a good case in point. Developments in agriculture were limited to industrialized nations and, without organized efforts or the means to share any lessons or best practices with the less developed communities, there were knowledge gaps between and within countries.

When information was made available, localized, and then adopted on a wide scale, yields increased, farmers’ livelihoods improved, and crops such as rice became more accessible and affordable. The World Bank also claimed that productivity gains would have been even higher had other knowledge–based problems been identified and addressed. For example, it referred to a study that found an average loss of 400 percent in potential farm income due to ineffective implementation of HYV seeds and techniques.

The World Bank report also stressed the importance of training, research and development, and support. Indeed, the Green Revolution succeeded because of collective action among funding agencies, national governments, non–governmental organizations, and non–profit research and training institutions. Furthermore, the public nature of funding allowed the HYV seeds, information, and technologies to be distributed as common goods.

Knowledge as a global public good

Because it was a public good, HYV technology spread well and fast — the same practices that were being taught in the farms of India were also being learned by farmers in the Philippines (non–excludability); successful application of techniques in one area did not take away from implementation in another location (non–rivalrous consumption). Because of this, the full advantages were captured by society at large, not just by the instigators of the Green Revolution or, had it not been freely available, by those who could afford to use it.

The Green Revolution was not a profit–driven venture and there was minimal participation from the private sector. While in principle, seeds were free, distribution entailed cost. To meet the need and demand, especially in far–flung rural fields, it was necessary to create a new link in the chain.

Once HYVs and related technologies proved feasible, many poor countries set up national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES) to pursue agricultural development (World Bank, 1999). These agencies were tasked to disseminate seeds and technologies and to work directly with farmer organizations to adapt varieties to local conditions. In effect, the NARES helped bridge the gap between knowledge producers and consumers.

How IRRI delivers knowledge for impact

IRRI’s value chain (Porter, 1998) utilizes the same hub–and–spoke structure fashioned during the Green Revolution. Because of the scope of its work — a single program can be located in multiple countries — IRRI’s research—to—delivery process (IRRI, 2001) will be most effective by engaging donors, NARES, advanced research institutes (ARIs), and other collaborators (Box 1).


Box 1: Delivering knowledge for impact
For PDF, click here.


In terms of total dollar investment, this business model has been shown to generate positive returns (Raitzer, 2003). At IRRI, the formula has worked especially well in three key areas:

  1. Assessing user needs: Without the assistance of local partners that have a direct line to their constituents, IRRI would be unable to determine the real needs of farmers to be able to derive the appropriate technologies and tools to develop through research.

  2. Research and development: To make sure it conducts research that is relevant, IRRI’s processes must be inclusive and consultative.

  3. Delivering knowledge and evaluating impact: For market efficiency, a producer should deliver its offering directly to its users. IRRI does not have the funds, manpower, and other resources required to do so. Intermediaries such as NARES and ARIs are indispensable players in this task.



Rice agriculture in the information age

Today, more than 75 percent of the world’s poorest people still depend on rice. As population continues to rise, next–generation technologies are again needed, not only to increase yield but also to counter the effects of climate change and environmental deterioration. Moreover, globalization is breaking down national barriers and is changing the makeup of institutions, as well as the production and marketing dynamics of rice–growing and rice–consuming countries.

Three major upheavals in the last 10 years alone will affect how IRRI does its work:

  1. Cutting–edge developments in molecular biology and genetics: With the publication of the rice genome sequence in 2005, IRRI scientists and collaborators may soon be able to identify specific genes that can increase productivity, protect against disease, resist drought, and address nutritional deficiencies. The finished genome sequence also acts as a research blueprint for other major crops.

  2. Almost unlimited storage capacity for data: Data management capacity will be progressively more important as the volume of rice–related research grows with time. This will allow IRRI to capture and manage large amounts of data and perform complex analyses.

  3. New and improved technologies: Information and communication technologies (ICT) are becoming more affordable and accessible. Because of the distributed nature of IRRI’s work, these create more opportunities to spread information and to collaborate.

A new strategic plan for IRRI

Clearly, IRRI’s research environment has changed since the Green Revolution broke out in the last century. Faced with a new development paradigm, in 2006, IRRI developed a new strategic plan (IRRI, 2006) and retooled its corporate mission: to reduce poverty and hunger, improve the health of rice farmers and consumers, and ensure environmental sustainability through collaborative research, partnerships, and strengthening of national agricultural research and extension systems.



Bridging the knowledge gap in rice research

Under the new strategy, IRRI will seek to provide equitable access to information and knowledge on rice and help develop the next generation of rice scientists (Goal 4). It aims to reach a wide range of beneficiaries — from crop scientists, development specialists, extension workers, farmers, and processors to policy–makers, educators, students, and consumers. As the World Bank pointed out, this kind of scope may translate to even more knowledge gaps and information problems.

To increase the probability of success, the implementation program will leverage three of IRRI’s strongest competitive advantages (Figure 1):


Figure 1: IRRI Networks to Partners through Farmers


Changes in IRRI’s research paradigm: The role of partnerships

With the altered landscape, IRRI needs to be dynamic and flexible as an organization and its programs more product and impact oriented. A change in paradigm becomes even more urgent, as the institute is faced with reduced donor funding, leaner manpower, and fewer resources.

Considering these, IRRI’s research portfolio will now focus on next–generation technologies:

Partnerships will be an increasingly important component of IRRI’s strategies:

As the hub in multiple collaborations (Figure 2), IRRI increases its reach and efficiency in disseminating technologies. This distributed structure enables national administrators, scientists, and extension workers to assume a stronger sense of project ownership, responsibility, and accountability.


Figure 2: Rippling Networks Emanating from IRRI's NARES Partners


NARES partners are vital players in the research–to–delivery value chain, acting as the direct link between headquarters and Goal 4 stakeholders. In turn, IRRI must strive to help these national agencies address the rice–related concerns in their respective countries. To do so, it must continue to push the latest research findings through the network via scholarly communication and publishing and, at the same time, distill and transfer skills, methods, and technologies through training and capacity building.

The importance of scholarly communication and training in IRRI’s new strategic plan

Scholarly communication — a set of “formal and informal processes by which the research and scholarship of faculty, researchers, and independent scholars are created, evaluated, edited, formatted, distributed, organized, made accessible, archived, used, and transformed” (Cornell University, 2007) — is an intrinsic component of the practice of scientific research. At IRRI, it results in the dissemination of knowledge products and services, which reach farmers as production packages.

IRRI’s incorporators recognized the value of “getting the message out” by way of three key objectives:

Today, these functions are well integrated into IRRI’s research–to–delivery process and corporate structure:

Scaling up IRRI’s communication and training efforts through electronic delivery

As the backdrop of rice research changes, the needs of IRRI’s beneficiaries will expand and be increasingly intricate, requiring more delivery modalities and access channels. To enhance service delivery, CPS, LDS, and TC have each developed Web–based offerings for information dissemination:

These sites have been online only for about five years but have already been widely accessed. The RKB alone recorded more than one million hits within the same year of its 2002 launch.

IRRI joins the open access publishing community

To facilitate free exchange of information, in October 2006, IRRI changed its copyright policy from the original “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.” This serves to strengthen IRRI’s position as a producer of global public goods (GPG) and removes old encumbrances that kept users from enjoying the full benefits of the Institute’s research. All books, photos, training modules, software, and other knowledge products are available through Creative Commons license deeds and similar types of open access (OA) mechanisms. As as example, see what IRRI states on its photo bank site at

Because, prior to the shift, many of the organization’s resources were already freely available, to some, this may seem like a token gesture. In practical terms, however, the change will affect significantly the way that IRRI goes from research to delivery. Certainly, it is impacting many activities in the value chain, from donor relationship management and germplasm distribution to co–publishing practices and scholar assistance.

In any case, the policy change has driven CPS, LDS, and TC to review their existing strategies and operations, to be able to determine how OA can help them meet their aims under Goal 4.



Operationalizing open access in IRRI: The experiences of LDS and CPS

IRRI produces a large volume of rice–related information resulting from externally funded research. The largest knowledge generators have been its scientists, especially those who publish the results of their research.

With the change in copyright policy, the pressure is on LDS and CPS — as primary agents for the capture, collection, and dissemination of scholarly material — to facilitate making all of IRRI’s research output available via OA.

LDS: Granting access to the world’s biggest collection of rice–related literature

When LDS was set up back in 1960, its mandate was “to make available to scientists in developing countries any articles that they were unable to get in the libraries of the institutions where they were working” (Chandler, 1992). From a collection of 65,000 books, monographs, and periodical and serial titles (Wedgeworth, 1986), today, the Library boasts of almost 150,000 publications in its collection (IRRI, 2007), earning recognition as the largest collection of rice–related literature in the world.

With ICT, LDS should be able to disseminate much larger volumes of scholarly information faster through the Internet — especially with cheaper hardware and software, more flexible publishing media and formats, and now growing acceptance of OA. In fact, even before the policy change, LDS had been one of the early adopters of free access in IRRI. It promotes OA uptake by:

LDS open access campaign marred by serials and permissions crises

Earlier this year, LDS studied publishing trends at IRRI and found that journal articles have mostly been submitted by research staff to commercial journals such as Field Crops Research, Theoretical and Applied Genetics, Euphytica, and Agronomy Journal. Only one open access journal, Breeding Research, made it to the top five.

Subscription charges to commercial journals have increased by more than 37 percent since 2002 (Van Orsdel and Born, 2006). With rising journal costs effectively restricting access, many libraries are now plagued by a “serials crisis.” At IRRI, LDS’ acquisition costs of journals related to IRRI’s research program — 174 titles, 104 of which are available online — rose by an average of 38 percent in 2006–07. Table 1 shows the average prices and price changes of journals in subjects that are most likely to be used by IRRI scientists.


Table 1: Average prices/price changes of journals in scientific disciplines relevant to IRRI.
SubjectAverage Price
2005 (US$)
Average Price
2006 (US$)
Percentage of price changes
Percentage of price changes
Food science1,107.001,292.003544


Commercial publishers also impose complex license agreements and copyright restrictions on journals, despite the already high fees paid by libraries. Labeled by Suber (2003) as the “permission crisis,” this serves as another obstacle to free access.

CPS publishing strategy: Addressing business problems through customer orientation

CPS, the Institute’s publishing arm, was created to fulfill a key mandate: to publish and disseminate the results of its work (IRRI, 1960). In practice, this mandate comes from IRRI’s project donors that prescribe publication as a key performance indicator. Therefore, every CPS book — almost 1,000 titles released to date — is the direct output of funded research.

The correlation between financial health/project portfolio and CPS’ production output directly affects IRRI’s publishing business. That is, the availability of funding — or the lack of it — tends to overtake the needs of customers. A review of CPS operations in 2003 revealed two problematic trends:

To revitalize IRRI’s publishing business, in 2004, CPS developed a new customer–oriented strategy to promote innovative and responsive communication and marketing solutions for clients/markets that fulfill critical needs of IRRI stakeholders, constituents, and publics.

Open access in IRRI publishing: Beyond getting the message out

The 2003 CPS study also showed that many publications were distributed free, particularly to researchers, libraries, and students in developing countries. At the same time, CPS’ ability to subsidize free dissemination was severely limited by budget constraints.

To continue to fulfill its mandate, CPS created the Rice Publications Archive (, a Web site where most IRRI publications could be downloaded electronically at no cost. Through this Web site, IRRI’s research became more widely available.

However, still covered by a strict copyright policy, content could not be easily appropriated by researchers for their own needs. To use a photo, illustration, or data table from an IRRI publication, permission had to be secured via a legal material transfer document.

Considering this, the change in copyright policy is an important breakthrough towards real dissemination and actual appropriation. Now that IRRI publications are available through OA, nothing should stop a Web–enabled rice researcher anywhere in the world from obtaining content for repurposing, distribution, or modification.

Free from the old restrictive policy and procedure, CPS now encourages such forms of “self–service publishing” and only requests proper attribution and adoption of the same Creative Commons license (, such that other users can enjoy the same privileges.



IRRI Training Center: Building capacity through open access

Studies show that farmer cooperators, acquiring knowledge and techniques from researchers and extension workers, experience higher yield than non–cooperators (Balasubramanian, et al., n.d.). This makes IRRI’s capacity–building function, led by the TC, an indispensable research–to–delivery component.

The business model of TC combines “training, train–the–trainer, and devolution of information and technical knowledge” in developing national systems (IRRI, 2001). By design, therefore, its competitive advantage comes from strong collaborative relationships with NARES partners.

To increase impact and reach, in 2002, TC began to offer computer–aided distance education by way of the Rice Knowledge Bank (RKB at Envisioned as a “virtual university,” the RKB is an OA facility that offers Web–based decision support tools, data sheets, e–learning modules, and other products.

The RKB has been a resounding success, if based on the number of site hits; in June 2007, it surpassed the 3.2–million mark and has been viewed by almost 250,000 unique visitors. The RKB supplements classroom–based group training; with more than 13,000 learning sessions to date, face–to–face training is still an essential feature in the TC portfolio.

Localizing the RKB: NARES partners “take over”

C.R. Rajendran, director of the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources Division for the Mekong region, admits there are advantages and disadvantages to the use of ICT in bridging the knowledge gap in agriculture:

“ICT offers powerful new ways to capture, present, and disseminate the wealth of knowledge available ... . However, most poor and small–scale farmers are unable to access such information available through ICT due to language barriers, lack of tools, and lack of knowledge about existing information. Also, they may be overwhelmed and intimidated by ICT.” (ADB, 2004)

In 2004, ADB approved a US$1–million grant from the Japan Fund for Information and Communications Technology (JFICT; see to support an ICT project targeting poor rice farmers in the Mekong region. The project aimed to adopt materials from IRRI’s RKB site and localize them to suit local conditions and the needs of extension workers and collaborators in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. By using country–specific, relevant, and targeted content, transfer of appropriate technology can be faster and wider, creating impact at the grassroots level.

Localization could also create a sense of “ownership” that helps foster sustainability. Wider availability of technology–based services will help demystify ICT, encourage farmers to use its tools, and, perhaps, even compel government to fund development of infrastructure in the countryside. It can help validate both the “virtual university” and the soundness of the proffered methods and practices.

Country sites (see, for example) assist the Institute through devolution, by shifting to the ultimate beneficiary — the NARES collaborators and their stakeholders — the more complex and resource–intensive task of creating capacity, developing new content, testing technologies, transferring knowledge to rice farmers, and maintaining the local site.

Benefits can also cross organizational and country borders. The main RKB site, serving as a portal, showcases techniques and tools of different groups and localities. As such, OA promotes partnership between IRRI and its NARES collaborators, as well as between national systems.



Open access towards equitable access to IRRI’s global public goods

The success of TC with the JFICT project demonstrates the advantages of OA. By allowing free and immediate access to the results of IRRI’s research, the RKB has been able to enhance information delivery, knowledge sharing, and wider exchange of best practices in research, training, and extension. As a result, OA has benefited national, even regional, stakeholder groups.

On the other hand, as the experiences of LDS and CPS illustrate, there are still other obstacles to overcome before the benefits of OA can be redistributed fully. Both organizational units are undertaking projects under Goal 4 to solve the problems.

Hurdling copyright controls by creating an information repository at IRRI

Bailey (2006) suggested self–archiving as a way to preserve and ensure open and perpetual access to scholarly material. To encourage the practice in IRRI, LDS is pushing for the creation of an institutional repository. To be able to do this, the Library has suggested the need for:

In the repository, LDS seeks to capture, among others, a key group of publications: research articles published by staff in subscription–based journals. While commercial publishers impose strict intellectual property control over journal submissions, industry giants such as Elsevier ( now allow authors to self–archive their version of papers (i.e., pre–prints).

The Rice Thesaurus: Developing a “universal language” for rice researchers

To promote its scholarly publishing agenda, IRRI has created the Rice Thesaurus, a living database of rice–related vocabulary terms. Based on internationally accepted standard metadata element sets and terminologies, the metadata profiles for the Rice Thesaurus are derived from and will form part of the FAO/CGIAR Agricultural Metadata Element Set (AGMES).

CPS initiated and later engaged LDS in the Rice Thesaurus project, after it had converted IRRI’s historic publications (more than 90,000 pages across nearly 500 titles) and photos into digital format (starting with some 5,000 images). Initially, CPS used off–the–shelf software to provide staff access to the files, but later opted for open source solutions, when proprietary features did not prove flexible and scaleable enough for IRRI’s needs.

To test the database and ensure its usability for OA, the digital publications and photos are being tagged with the Rice Thesaurus terms. LDS and CPS hope this will not only help improve the searchability of IRRI’s research on the Internet, but also increase opportunities for use and citation by other researchers.

Democratizing ICT: The true new frontier for knowledge dissemination

Making IRRI publications available online (for example, see Rice is life: Scientific perspectives for the 21st century at has helped CPS address an operations issue through the reduction of its distribution expenses. However, the Rice Publications Archive was created to serve not just a transactional but a strategic purpose — to provide real and unfettered access to IRRI’s rice research. Therefore, CPS must review its approach and make the facility more effective and robust.

One important consideration is the profile of IRRI’s customers. Most rice producers and consumers are located in developing regions where ICT infrastructure is poor to non–existent. Table 2 shows the pertinent statistics for countries where IRRI maintains a local office. Except for Korea, where the Internet is available to 66.5 percent of the population, a majority of the IRRI country sites do not even serve one percent of the local connectivity needs. Surely, the problem is more severe in the rural areas, where many in the agricultural community reside.

Since the required technology is not available, how can IRRI’s knowledge products reach the right users at the right time? As the success of the JFICT–RKB project has illustrated, CPS must be able to work through partners in the middle of the value chain — “impact channels” — that have direct access to both the technology and the customers groups. These would include NARES partners, especially those in the knowledge management and development communication disciplines.


Table 2: Total population vs. Internet–enabled population at IRRI country sites.
Note: Internet statistics from
Africa Internet statistics were updated 10 June 2007.
Asia Internet statistics were updated on 14 June 2007.
(2007 estimate)
Internet users
(December 2000)
Internet users
(latest data)
Percentage of population
Users in region
Growth in use
(2000–2007, percentage)
Lao PDR5,826,2716,00025,0000.40.0316.7
World total6,574,666,417n/a1,133,408,29417.2100214


To achieve this, the Archive must allow CPS’ channels to easily acquire, transmit, repurpose, and transform the information, to suit the needs of the end users. Based on the average penetration rate in Table 2, it is likely that in many cases, the medium must adapt to the least common denominator: print publishing.

Since the early 2000s, when CPS first created the files for the Archive (in Adobe Acrobat), there have been great advancements in digital technology. Open source platforms, Web 2.0 tools, and e–commerce engines, which allow for greater flexibility, are now being explored to improve dissemination and reduce download issues.

If required, to convert the information back to traditional media without risking the inventory management and funding problems that CPS had to deal with, the impact channels can turn to desktop printing, CD/DVD, video, and other emerging on–demand technologies.



Conclusion: Creating a global portal for rice knowledge

As the CPS, LDS, and TC case studies show, OA is necessary to meet the objectives of IRRI’s Goal 4. With the layer of copyright restriction removed, better access to research results serves to lubricate IRRI’s value chain.

In due course, IRRI hopes to convene the rice industry players via a World Rice Community Portal, a major output of the new strategy. It is designed to provide a single interface or dashboard from which users can access information from all ICT–based initiatives in IRRI, such as the Archive and the RKB main and country sites. As more global public goods are created by the Portal community, other rice–related sites are expected to link to the Portal.

As a first step, IRRI must develop strong links upstream and downstream by promoting OA adoption to all potential users, generators, and channels of the Portal. Any break or gap — the inability, unwillingness, or lack of understanding to impart IRRI’s knowledge freely and immediately — may weaken the model.

In the near term, any points for convergence between CPS and LDS should be investigated to be able to develop more seamless processes. Ultimately, by co–developing a robust strategy, CPS and LDS will be better equipped to champion the OA agenda in IRRI. End of article


About the authors

Albert Borrero, Mila Ramos, Anna Arsenal, Katherine Lopez, and Gene Hettel are IRRI staff from Communication and Publications Services (CPS) and Library and Documentation Services (LDS).



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Contents Index

Copyright ©2007, First Monday.

Copyright ©2007, Albert Borrero, Mila Ramos, Anna Arsenal, Katherine Lopez, and Gene Hettel.

Scholarly publishing initiatives at the International Rice Research Institute: Linking users to public goods via open access by Albert Borrero, Mila Ramos, Anna Arsenal, Katherine Lopez, and Gene Hettel
First Monday, Volume 12 Number 10 - 1 October 2007